Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The Episcopal Diocese of Delaware, where I now make my non-canonical residence, has embarked on an interesting evangelism project. I thought of calling "Drive By Evangelism" but, well, that's just not been my experience. Indeed, as you will read, it's can be a lot more involved than that.
I've decided to call it "Automotive Evangelism".
The project is about Episcopal "vanity plates" for your car. You can see a picture of the license plate above on my trusty "Lucy True Bug" VW convertible bug.
I don't like the term "vanity plates". I think, rather, it's a way to be "distinctive" about who you are and what you believe in or care about. "Distinctive plates" sounds better - more accurate - to my ears.
You can also see my magnetic sticker collection - another way to be "distinctive" - which includes LN (for Long Neck, where I live), RB (for Rehoboth Beach, one of the most wonderful places on God's green earth), and LSD (for Lower, Slower Delaware, which is the area of Delaware "below the canal" where things move a bit slower than "upstate").
There's also a Kanuga magnetic sticker (one of my favorite Episcopal Conference Centers), along with a moose for Maine (the diocese which sponsored me for ordination), a Black Dog for Martha's Vineyard, MA (the diocese of my birth), and a "Dos Locos" sticker for one of my favorite restaurants in Rehoboth, as well as a wonderful "paw" which reads, "Who rescued who?" which I got as a gift from a dear friend after I "rescued" Theo. In the upper left hand corner is a purple heart with the name "Sydney" - the niece of a dear friend who died, at age 9, of a brain tumor.
Episcopal Women's Caucus.
I'm waiting for my magnetic sticker from the DNC (Democratic National Committee), which has an image of "Bo" - the White House dog" with the words, "I Bark For Barack".
Cars have become a way to "advertize" causes and places which are important to the driver. It's also a way to "individualize" your vehicle to make it distinctive from all the other cars on the road.
I suppose that's "vanity" but I much prefer the word "distinctive".
You can find more information about the project here on the Diocesan web page, but it was really a simple two-step process:
(1) Fill out a simple 2-page application form.
(2) Mail in your application long with a one-time fee of $15.
We were allowed to request (but not guaranteed) a specific number. I went with 421 as that's my birthday. I chose 422 for Ms. Conroy because, yeppa, that's her birthday. To my absolute delight, it was possible to satisfy both requests.
You'll note the Episcopal shield on the left, followed by the letters "EC" and then the license plate number. Along the bottom it reads: Episcopal Diocese of Delaware.
Some of my friends from other dioceses have expressed delight and curiosity, followed by envy, followed by the realization that, hey, I can ask my diocese to do the same!
I love the interest shown by neighbors and random folks in the parking lot at the grocery store - or post office or retail outlet or gas station - who ask questions. Which is the point, right? I've only had the license plate since Saturday and already I'm finding myself in conversations with people about my church and my faith.
Sometimes I get the predictable: "Aren't you the church that ordains homosexuals?" That question can be asked with disdain or delight. Two people have asked, "Aren't you the church of that guy...that...what's his name?...Gene, Gene, Gene.....Robinson?" I smiled and said, "Yes, Bishop Robinson is a bishop in The Episcopal Church. New Hampshire. Retired now, actually. Wrote a new book on Marriage Equality. You should read it."
I loved that they looked at my face and then my license plate and back to me again, a bit bewildered, I suppose, that I would be standing there, calm, composed and happy.
One woman asked, "How do you square that with God? I mean, I know you know what the Bible says about homosexuality........"
And, we were off. Twenty minutes later she was saying, "You know, I haven't been to church in years. I have a nephew that's gay. He's had a rough go - not with the family but with the church. There's an Episcopal Church not far from me. Maybe, one of these Sundays, I'll drop in."
I had another conversation with an elderly man who spied my license plate and asked lots of questions. Which led to a conversation about his church. He happened to be Methodist. There are tons of Methodist churches here.
I told him that I was ordained in The Episcopal Church which led to a conversation about his pastor. Turns out, he had been ill and was upset because his pastor hadn't been by to visit.
I asked a simple question: Had he let her know that he had been ill? "Well," he sputtered, "I'm sure some of my friends told her. Besides, I haven't been to church in a couple weeks. You think she'd notice my absence."
"Well," I said, "Here's what I know. Being ordained doesn't give you the ability to be a mind-reader, much less make you perfect. At the end of the day, you're still human, even after you've been ordained. Sometimes, being ordained makes you even more mindful of your faults and the limitations of being human."
"Here's an idea," I said, "If you need some pastoral care, or someone with whom you can discuss what's going on in your life and how that affects your soul, why not call and ask for what you need?"
He paused for a bit and said, "You mean, like an adult?"
We laughed and then he said he would "drop by" the parish office on his way home. No, I didn't "get one for my team" but I hope I was the vehicle, as it were, for two people to move closer to find Jesus in their midst.
And, you know what? That's okay by me. Evangelism isn't a membership drive. It's about Jesus. It's about being re-presentatives of The Christ who can be found in the most surprising places.
That's just two of the conversations I've had in the past four days since I put the license plate on my car. Amazing, right? Who wudda thunk?
If you like the idea of talking to total strangers about The Episcopal Church or issues of your faith, then I hope you'll agree with me that this is a wonderful idea and a great opportunity.
However, if you don't like the idea of talking to total strangers about The Episcopal Church or issues of your faith, then, as we used to say in North Jersey, "Fuggeddaboutit".
Just don't complain to me about evangelism and how we need it desperately and no one is doing it and the church is "hemorrhaging members" and will soon die.
Of course, you don't need a license plate to do evangelism, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's a great conversation starter. I also love thinking about the conversations some people have in their car as they follow behind me on the road and see my license plate.
If you're serious about Jesus and serious about bringing people closer to Him, then I can assure you, this is the most fun you'll have about being serious about your faith.
Automotive Evangelism: It's a great way to be 'distinctive' about your faith.